Jury selection starts in Brashear murder trial

Aug. 19—Jury selection for the first-degree murder trial of James R. Brashear will continue Monday after attorneys questioned a panel of about 50 jurors Friday afternoon.

Jury selection began at 1 p.m. Friday at the Nez Perce County Courthouse and was finished for the day at 3:30 p.m. After the prospective jurors were excused, 2nd District Judge Mark Monson spoke with Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman, Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith and Brashear’s defense attorney, Chris Bugbee, of Spokane, about resuming jury selection Monday. Another panel of jurors will be brought in for questions Monday morning and those who remain from that panel will then join those left from Friday’s panel for final jury selection.

Brashear, 69, of Winchester, is charged in the shooting death of 40-year-old John A. Mast, of Williston, N.D., on Feb. 6, 2021, in the Rosauers parking lot in Lewiston. Mast is Brashear’s former son-in-law and was in a custody dispute for his children, Brashear’s grandchildren. Mast was also accused, but never charged, with abusing the children.

The jury selection at the courthouse was complicated by the construction of the new courthouse. The parking lot was at reduced size and overflow parking was available at the Lewiston Community Center. Numerous cars were parked along the streets near the courthouse.

Once inside the courthouse, jurors and others entering the courtroom went through a metal detector, which was noted with signs inside and outside the courthouse. A metal-detecting wand was used to make sure no one had weapons on their person and those with bags had them searched as those entering the courtroom walked through a metal detection device as well.

Prospective jurors arrived at the courthouse earlier in the week to fill out questionnaires as attorneys for the prosecution and defense as well as the judge worked to create an unbiased jury. The questions were to see if jurors had any previous information or opinions that would affect their decision in the trial.

During the jury selection process Friday, one juror was excused by Monson because her husband had died a few days ago. Monson offered his condolences and said he was impressed she still arrived. Others were excused because of reasons that would interfere with their work, business, childcare or other personal conflicts. Those who were released received no objections from the prosecution or defense.

About eight jurors were dismissed and then Monson and the attorneys met with the jurors individually in the jury room. Other jurors were dismissed during this process as well. Once attorneys and Monson had spoken with all the prospective jurors they were dismissed for the day.

The trial is expected to last seven days in court. Brashear faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He was in the courtroom wearing a dark suit with a light blue shirt and tie and was walking with a cane.

On the day of the alleged murder, Brashear was with his daughter, Rebecca Brashear-Mast, Mast’s ex-wife, and she was notified that Mast was given unsupervised custody of the children for the weekend. Attempts to prevent the custody exchange through the court system and Child Protective Services were unsuccessful, according to court documents.

Brashear allegedly took a Glock 9mm handgun and drove his daughter’s car to the Rosauers parking lot to meet Mast. Brashear allegedly got Mast’s attention, who then turned around, and Brashear allegedly shot him in the chest from a few feet away. Mast ran away and Brashear allegedly shot him three more times. Mast was taken to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, where he was declared dead, according to court documents and previous reporting in the Tribune.

Brashear allegedly waited for police to arrive after Mast was shot. Later, he allegedly told investigators that he decided to kill Mast when he heard the grandchildren were upset over having to stay with their father, according to court documents.

However, Brashear pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in April 2021. The trial was delayed because of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was initially set for May 2022 and efforts to mediate the case to avoid trial were unsuccessful. It was delayed again to July 2022 to allow more time for the defense to gather witnesses, according to previous reporting in the Tribune.

The trial in jury was delayed after Bugbee filed a motion regarding the use of testimony from Brashear and others regarding the abuse allegations against Mast. Bugbee argued it was Brashear’s constitutional right to defend himself at trial and be able to testify about his state of mind. The prosecution argued that it would create a trial within a trial and whether Brashear was justified in the alleged shooting death, according to previous reporting in the Tribune.

Monson shared concerns that Brashear’s testimony on the allegations against Mast would place Mast, rather than Brashear, on trial and later denied the motion. Bugbee then appealed the decision by Monson and the trial that was set for November 2022 was delayed. The Idaho Supreme Court denied Bugbee’s appeal and the trial was set for August to give Bugbee time to create a defense based on the denied motions, according to court documents and previous reporting in the Tribune.

The Mast family also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Brashear and his other members of his family in February. The Brashear family asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed but the request was denied by Monson, who is also overseeing the civil case. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in March, according to court documents.

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.

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